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Bashing New Penguins Defensemen Not New at All

We fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we?

Things aren’t going well in Penguinland nowadays, that much is fairly obvious.  Remedies are coming in from all directions:  It’s the goaltenders, it’s the defense, it’s the lack of offense, it’s the coaching, it’s the ice.  Hell, I even heard one guy on Pittsburgh sports talk radio yesterday blame the Penguins’ struggles on the “cushy” facilities in the new barn.

One group that is getting a portion of the blame particularly caught my eye though, those being the defensemen.

Isn’t it interesting how selective a sports fan’s memory can be sometimes?

While these guys are only two of the seven regular defensemen that HCDB has employed thus far on the Penguins’ blueline, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek have gotten the lion share of the headlines since their free agency signings with the Penguins on July 1st.  They didn’t come cheap, costing the Penguins $5 million and $4 million per year, respectfully.

Both Martin and Michalek were brought in to shore up what was thought of as a subpar set of defensive defensemen.  The Penguins had more than their fair share of offensive defensemen in Sergei Gonchar, Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang, but that left them relatively weak in their own end.

However, after a whopping 16 games with their new team, with their new system, calls for their heads have commenced.

Damn, now where have I heard that before?

Oh yeah, now I remember.  Remember when the Penguins signed some Russian dude named Gonchar to a big ‘ol 5-year contract with a $5 million cap hit?

And more importantly, remember how lousy Gonchar played that first year with his new team, with the new system?  Let me remind you then, it was ugly at times.  There were MANY nights at the Igloo when Gonchar would get booed bringing the puck up ice.

And it wasn’t just the fans.  On Jan. 15th, 2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Hall of Fame writer Dave Molinari called Gonchar “the poster boy for free-agent flops”.

Gonchar is gone to Ottawa now of course, but if I remember correctly, things turned out OK with ‘ol Sarge.  You know, the guy with the torn MCL after yet another cheap shot from Alex Ovechkin, that came back to play in the same series to beat the Caps, not to mention help the Penguins win a Cup.

My point?  Give the newbies some time, this time, will ya?

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins


Russian Rocket's avatar

You can definitely see similarities with Martin.  It seems he’s testing out this new found freedom, but at times it’s found him too far out of position.  Michalek as well, with those pinches the other night.  Bylsma has given the D a green light to jump up, join the play, take some chances, but they need to realize they all can’t do it at every chance.

Posted by Russian Rocket on 11/12/10 at 01:11 PM ET

DigitalGypsy66's avatar

I think the forwards have to know the tendencies of the new defensemen, too.  Knowing when they pinch, so a forward can go up and cover etc.  Communication must improve on the ice for this to happen.

Posted by DigitalGypsy66 on 11/12/10 at 01:16 PM ET


Consider where the penguins are playing… in Pittsburgh!  Where defense is the crown jewel of the Steelers.  It really has to do with the salary; and in particular the salary for a defense-men.  Don’t forget Ryan Whitney also.  When a player signs for that much money, there is a lot to be expected. 

Most fans; like me, were willing to concede a huge portion of the available salary cap going towards the defense this summer if it meant less goals against and more wins.  So far it has not worked out that way… and more importantly, that money could have been used for more scoring potential up-front.  How much worse would our team be at this point if say, you had Engelland and Lovejoy as #5 and #6, and picked up a veteran for under 1 million?  Then went and took that available 9-10 million and added some quality scoring wingers up front?

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 11/12/10 at 01:35 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

I think the problem is both Z & Martin were in very structured Defensive Neutral zone trap teams to an aggressive attacking system with very little structure & it’s culture shock for them !!

I remember People Ripping Ron Stackhouse constantly ! He was very underrated in my book

Posted by Evilpens on 11/12/10 at 01:38 PM ET


It’s just not the new guys.  Gogo has had 3 bad turnovers in the last 2 games that resulted in goals.

Posted by Arnold Slick on 11/12/10 at 01:52 PM ET


It’s annoying how every Pittsburgh fan knows that Pittsburgh’s system has “no structure.”

They played it pretty well the other night, and individuals (Martin, Michalek, Kunitz, Goligoski) made mistakes which led directly to goals. They made stupid decisions that they usually wouldn’t, and they knew immediately what they should have done. It was all indecisiveness and stupidity, except I guess Kunitz’s, which was just stupid.

Remember how well the defense played before they got Orpik and Michalek back? I do, and it’s going to be fun to watch in the future too.

I understand, it’s really shitty to watch a defense that gives up the third-least amount of shots a game.

Posted by NathanBC on 11/12/10 at 03:31 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

UMMMM No they didn’t play “Pretty well” They gave up at least 12 odd man breaks during the game to a offensively challenged team playing without their top 2 C’s in Savard & Krejci !!  Strike One !! try again !!

Posted by Evilpens on 11/12/10 at 04:56 PM ET


Yeah, Goligoski, Martin, and Michalek made poor pinches multiple times, and the rest of the team played pretty well.  !!

Posted by NathanBC on 11/12/10 at 07:44 PM ET


Oh yeah, and Boston has the fifth highest goals-per-game number.

Posted by NathanBC on 11/12/10 at 08:15 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

Now THERE they were!

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 11/13/10 at 03:25 AM ET

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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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